Charles C. Camosy: Why Do Secularists Think is it Wrong for Trump to Speak Ill of John McCain?

Sen. John McCain waits as he is introduced to speak at a rally in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on Oct. 26, 2008. McCain died Aug. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The history of the moral aphorism “speak no ill of the dead” (important enough, apparently, to have its own Wikipedia page) goes back at least to the fourth century. In today’s morally fragmented culture, it is one of the few claims to garner wide support right across the political spectrum. Democrats and Republicans were united last week in condemning President Trump’s speech to workers at a tank factory in which he went after John McCain just months after the Arizona senator’s death.

These sentiments are understandable, of course, if one believes that McCain is still alive in some sense. This is presumably what is meant when some of Trump’s critics begged him to let McCain “rest in peace.”

What’s harder to understand is the criticism from those on the secular left; if McCain is simply gone, and thus cannot rest at all — in peace or otherwise — Trump’s words cannot wrong McCain because McCain no longer exists.

Instead, it seems as if what both sides might agree on is that what offends us is the attack on McCain’s dignity — or even the dignity of his death.

The problem with invoking dignity, however, is that in our pluralistic culture, not all of Trump’s critics agree on what the dignity is. Indeed, when it comes to our cultural debate over euthanasia and assisted suicide, the opposing sides very often employ the concept of dignity in support of very different positions.

John McCain on April 24, 1973, shortly after his release from a Vietnamese POW camp. Photo by Thomas J. O’Halloran/LOC/Creative Commons

Those who oppose ending human life for medical reasons  tend to invoke the dignity of the human person, which is violated in a radical way when someone aims at their death. Those who support these practices, on the other hand, very often claim that they want people to “die with dignity.”

Indeed, many U.S. states that have legalized these practices in recent years put the term “dignity” in the name of the legislation — like Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act.

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Source: Religion News Service

(Charles C. Camosy is associate professor of theological and social ethics and a board member of Democrats for Life. His forthcoming book “Resisting Throwaway Culture” will be released on May 15. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.)

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